Many of us, when we think of sex trafficking, picture Thailand or Moldova, not New Jersey. The truth is that the sex trade is big business here in the United States and most victims are not trafficked in from abroad. They are Americans, often as young as twelve years old, forced or coerced into prostitution by pimps that roam even the quietest of neighborhoods.
New Jersey is no exception. In 2009, Rebekah Contarino looked around and saw resources in place for international victims of human trafficking in New Jersey and other programs for adult women leaving the sex trade, but very little was available for the local youth being rescued from forced prostitution. These girls had few places to go for protection and fewer for recuperation. Also, they had not been warned about the reality of trafficking before pimps gripped them.
The Anti-trafficking Movement has made great strides since 2009. As awareness about the issue grows, more people are stepping up to combat trafficking, but these advocates need resources. Also, while new legislation has increased rescues, the situation stands that post-rescue placement services scrounge for places to send victims (homeless shelters overflow with survivors, youth residential treatment facilities are not equipped for their needs, and many are wrongly prosecuted then sent to juvenile detention centers where they do not belong.) Survivors need a restoration home equipped to support their unique needs and vulnerable youth need preventive protection and education. That is where Love True comes in!
Love True works to end sex trafficking in New Jersey through parallel efforts in restoration and prevention. Their current initiative include:
1) raising money to open New Jersey’s first restoration home for American teen
survivors of trafficking. There, trained staff will work to nurture girls’ hearts, restore their sense of self-worth, and empower them to succeed.
2) training professionals and community members from nurses to parents to seize their unique opportunities to advocate for
the vulnerable and help rescue victims.
3) ending demand by inspiring and equipping men, young and old, to take a stand against the sexual culture and objectification of people that feeds the sex industry.
4) teaching vulnerable girls and boys why and how to avoid becoming victims of sex slavery and empowering them with the knowledge and tools to avoid the snares of traffickers (based on he Justice Resource Institute’s acclaimed My Life My Choice curriculum).
In Love True’s prevention education program for at-risk youth, teachers debunk myths about prostitution and explain the realities of sex trafficking, objectification, pimp culture, recruitment tactics, self-esteem, internet safety, substance abuse’s correlation to vulnerability, how to identify a trusted person and who to call in dangerous situations. They also introduce students to a survivor who shares her own story with them. Because of Love True’s efforts, many youth who would otherwise remain at high risk for being trafficked are less likely to fall prey to injustice. Founder, Rebekah shares the story of one such youth.
Chelsea (name changed) participated in Love True’s eight-week class at an after-school program she frequented and has given us permission to share her story here. Chelsea spent many years in a cycle of rejection and hurt that left her struggling with anger and deep-seated confusion. Rebekah recalls that when she first met Chelsea, she was reserved and had every defense up, but her disposition shifted when teachers invited every student to contribute to the creation of class rules. Realizing that her opinion and voice mattered made an impression on Chelsea. With each session, the girls heard more about their immeasurable value through both lesson content and the sincere love from their teachers, thus growing Chelsea’s sense of self-worth. As part of their curriculum, students wrote in a journal each week about either their experiences in class or whatever was on their minds. Teachers read the entries and penned encouraging responses. Rebekah recounts that Chelsea slowly began to open up about her story in her journal. She spoke about how no one in her life believed in her or cared for her and explained that her parents had told her at a young age to “thank God for her body because it’s the only thing that would get her anywhere in life.” Although she remained reserved during class, Chelsea bloomed through her journal. Once the teachers understood the lies Chelsea had believed, they could see just how high her risk of exploitation had been. On program graduation day, teachers asked students to share something they learned. Members of Chelsea’s class agreed that they felt empowered- that they hadn’t known all the truths about “pimpin” and “hoes” and they had become more aware and “smart to the issue.” Chelsea shared that she had learned for the first time that she had more value than just her body.
Because of Love True’s work, Chelsea and a growing number of girls like her know not only how to protect themselves from trafficking but why. They have discovered that they are valuable and have found freedom to dream like they never had before! With each class, Rebekah’s heart is encouraged by the change the program brings, “It is extraordinary to see their confidence rise and for them to walk in the knowledge that they are powerful people and able to make choices and always ask for help.”
Love True is expanding into new and important territory. As programs grow, needs grow with them. Consider how you (or someone you know) can help Love True reach its goals. Here are some current needs:
- The Real Men Love True Documentary Tour screening Sex + Money needs volunteers to network, spread the word, plan, set up and pray with men afterward (opportunity for men only). Contact Andrew Foote at Andrew@love-true.org.
- Funds for the future Restoration Home are always being collected. Donate directly, host a fundraiser or run in Love True’s annual 5K.
- Contact Chloe@love-true.org. (It’s not too late to register for the Trek Against Trafficking on September 26! Love True also needs an assistant director for the annual Trek Against Trafficking 5K. Contact Emily@love-true.org.)
- Committed teachers and speakers are needed for the growing prevention programs. Contact Rebekah@love-true.org.
- Staff is seeking office space in the Bridgewater area. Contact Rebekah@love-true.org.
- The communications team is looking for free professional assistance with website development. Contact Emily@love-true.org.
- Love True is always thankful for prayer support. Contact Rebekah@love-true.org.